The terrorists have won

Jack Hunter Contributing Editor, Rare
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Since 9/11, Senator Lindsey Graham has said repeatedly that we must fight the terrorists “over there” so we don’t have to fight them “over here.” But this week, Graham threw that all out the window. Apparently, we are now at war everywhere. Forever.

Commenting on the controversial Section 1031 of the National Defense Authorization Act — which many contend gives the federal government new powers to arrest American citizens without charge — Graham made clear this week that “1031, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland.”

The entire world is now a “battlefield”? “Including the homeland”?

There have been serious constitutional questions raised recently concerning whether our federal government should be able to arrest or assassinate American citizens overseas without charge or trial. This new and largely uncharted legal territory has been troublesome. But arresting or assassinating American citizens here in the United States without trial? Rounding up and holding American citizens indefinitely without charge? What country is this?

This is a new and unprecedented government power that should scare the living hell out of every last American. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) rightly called it “one of the most anti-liberty pieces of legislation of our lifetime.” Jim Gilmore, former Virginia governor and chairman of the Congressional Panel on Terrorism, roundly denounced it: “The provisions of this bill undermine the basic safeguards that we enjoy as Americans. It is dangerous, and should not be supported by anyone: Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, citizen or non-citizen.”

Added Gilmore: “This ill-considered bill is one of those dangers to our liberties by an unwise extension of military power in the homeland contrary to all law, precedent and history.”

As Amash and Gilmore note — and Graham ignores — the basic constitutional principle of protecting individual liberties through due process is not some negotiable piece of historical trivia. It is the bedrock of the most rudimentary American and Western law dating all the way back to the Magna Carta. Accepting this legislation blindly — as the majority of both parties seem entirely comfortable with — is to surrender the most basic of American liberties. Said Sen. Rand Paul, who fought hard and mostly alone to strip the National Defense Authorization Act of this terrifying provision: “Should we err today and remove some of the most important checks on state power in the name of fighting terrorism, well, then the terrorists have won.”

And the terrorists have won. If a primary purpose of terrorism is to induce fear, and Americans are willing to give up their most precious freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism, how is this anything less than a monumental victory for our enemies?

Most who support this new power for the federal government — and especially Graham — also agree that what we call the “war on terror” is a war that will last forever. In this light, this new legislation poses a particular danger, or as Sen. Paul explains: “During war, there has always been a struggle to preserve constitutional liberties. During the Civil War, the right of habeas corpus was suspended … Fortunately, those actions were reversed after the war.”

Paul then notes:

The discussion now to suspend certain rights to due process is especially worrisome, given that we are engaged in a war that appears to have no end. Rights given up now cannot be expected to be returned. So we do well to contemplate the diminishment of due process, knowing that the rights we lose now may never be restored.

A state of permanent war inevitably means permanent loss of liberties. When “protecting our freedoms” is defined by gradually giving them up one by one, Americans are no longer protected or free. This was understood well by our Founding Fathers and was one of the primary reasons they wrote the Constitution their descendants are now so eager to discard. Benjamin Franklin believed that when you give up liberty for security, you get neither. James Madison wrote:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other … In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people …

The great fear in allowing government officials to forgo due process is not that it might hurt actual terrorists (for the record, I’m in favor of hurting actual terrorists, badly) but that it might hurt you, me or any other innocent American in the future. To support giving government this sort of power, you must assume two things: 1) Government never makes mistakes; and 2) Government never abuses its power. I know few who believe either.

Let us gauge our decline in our rhetoric. James Madison said in 1795: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Lindsey Graham said this week, boastfully: “When they say, ‘I want to talk to a lawyer,’ we tell them, ‘Shut up! You don’t get a lawyer!’”

This isn’t protecting America. It’s destroying it.

Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger. He helped Rand Paul write “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.